Visiting Colombia’s Colonial Towns and Countryside

Gorgeous countryside, historic pueblos and cities, and outdoor adventures: Get a taste of what Bogotá, Boyacá, and Santander have to offer with this two-week itinerary.

Days 1-3

Spend a couple of days in Bogotá wandering the Candelaria, the capital city’s centro histórico, then visit the Quinta de Bolívar, Simón Bolívar’s old country home. Don’t miss the Cerro de Monserrate, a pilgrimage site with unsurpassed views of the metropolis. Hike up, then take a ride on the gondola or tram back down.

Learn about Colombia’s past from the time of the Muiscas to its shaky years as an independent nation in the city’s excellent museums, like the extensive art galleries of the Colección de Arte del Banco de la República and the mesmerizing Museo del Oro.

Travel map of Bogotá, Colombia.

Days 4-5

After setting off from Bogotá, make your way to Tunja, a three-hour bus ride. Tunja is a city of spectacular colonial churches. Spend a few hours checking them out, then head on to the nearby colonial town of Villa de Leyva, one of the country’s most beautiful and well-preserved pueblos, just 45 minutes away.

Villa de Leyva’s charm is in its quiet atmosphere and lovely whitewashed colonial architecture. The Plaza Mayor is the top place to experience both. In the countryside nearby, check out the Santuario Fauna y Flora Iguaque for a half-day hike to Laguna Iguaque, which was sacred to the Muiscas. In the adjacent arid deserts, visit the lovely Convento del Santo Ecce Homo.

Day 6

Take a bus to Ráquira and spend the day visiting the Convento de la Candelaria, just outside of town. Tour the complex, then head back to town to shop for handicrafts, like the city’s famous clay pots.

Day 7

Small village street in the colonial village of Barichara, near San Gil, Santander, Colombia.
Exploring a small street in the colonial village of Barichara, near San Gil, Santander, Colombia. Photo © Rafal‚ Cichawa/123rf.

Today is a travel day. Return to Tunja to catch a bus bound for Barichara, which is Villa de Leyva’s rival for most beautiful pueblo. Judge for yourself as you walk the stone streets of this old tobacco town in the department of Santander.

Stroll the famous Camino Real to the indigenous village of Guane and return to Barichara in time for the spectacular sunset. Stay at the Color de Hormiga Hostel and wake up to the chirping of cheerful, amazingly colorful birds.

Day 8

Barichara makes a great base for all sorts of outdoor adventures in and around San Gil. Spend a day hiking to waterfalls, rafting, splashing in swimming holes, or caving. Have dinner at Gringo Mike’s in San Gil. Stay in Barichara unless you want to be in the middle of the action of San Gil.

Days 9-11

Head north to Bucaramanga. On the way there, visit the Cañón del Chicamocha and be blown away by the views. It’s a 1.5-hour trip to the canyon.

Once you make it to Bucaramanga, chat up other world travelers in town at the Kasa Guane. If charm is what you seek, head to the colonial district of nearby Girón, checking in at the Girón Chill Out Hotel Boutique and strolling the town’s old streets in the evening.

On your last morning in the area, cap things off by paragliding at Mesa de Ruitoque outside of Bucaramanga. If soaring above the green valleys is too much action, visit the beautiful Jardín Botánico Eloy Valenzuela in Floridablanca and munch on a sweet oblea (wafer) in the town center afterward.

From the Bucaramanga airport, catch a flight back to Bogotá.

Excursion to El Cocuy

Got more time and need some mountains to conquer? You can get to the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy by land directly from Tunja or from Bucaramanga, going through the highland university town of Pamplona. Add at least four more days for this option.

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